The vast, vast majority of native Italian words (i.e. words not imported from another language) end in vowels. It's very uncommon for Italian words to stop at a consonant. Yet, when we look at Latin vocabulary, huge number of words end in hard consonants, e.g. diem, emptor, nauseam, rigor, nos, id, meus, and so on and so forth.

We all know Italian is derived from Latin and is closest to Latin among all the romance languages, but what happened to the consonant endings? How did the same population who a few centuries ago used to speak Latin with all its consonant-endings manage to lose not one or two but all of them in the derived language? It's as if such sounds never existed in this population, like the sound ZI doesn't naturally occur in Japanese, or the sound æ (as in English man or stand) doesn't naturally occur in German.

It's stranger in this case because Latin after all originated in Italy, not in a foreign country. It's intimately associated with Italy's history and culture. So what happened?

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    None of those answers my question. Shall we let others have a crack at it and maybe post some original thoughts?
    – user6503
    Commented Jul 23, 2020 at 11:59
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    You should be more precise. I assume that you refer mostly to nouns and verbs. Many articles and prepositions, for instance, end in consonant: in, con, per, il and so on.
    – DaG
    Commented Jul 23, 2020 at 12:20
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    “It's as if such sounds never existed in this population”: which sounds? The final consonants in your examples (m, r, s, d) are alive and well in Italian. It's their position and role within the world within the words that has shifted, unlike sounds actually absent, such as in the examples you make from Japanese and German.
    – DaG
    Commented Jul 23, 2020 at 12:28
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    That said, your question, albeit imprecisely formulated, is an interesting one and whole books have been written about the transition from Latin to Romance languages, each of which has strong peculiarities among each other and with respect to Latin.
    – DaG
    Commented Jul 23, 2020 at 12:30
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    I might write an answer later this evening. But note that many final consonants were already transitioning to a more vocalic pronunciation in classical Latin. For example, it's pretty much the standard consensus that final m was pronounced by nasalizing the previous vowel (so "rosam" was pronounced more like "rosã", where ã denotes the sound of the French word en).
    – Denis Nardin
    Commented Jul 23, 2020 at 13:38

1 Answer 1


How did the same population who a few centuries ago used to speak Latin with all its consonant-endings manage to lose not one or two but all of them in the derived language?

I think there is a misunderstanding here. I bolded the word 'speak' in your sentence, just to highlight a point: we must separate the written Latin and the spoken Latin.

Italian comes from the ‘vulgar’ Latin (where vulgar in this case doesn’t mean rude, but just spoken by the populace) and not from the written Latin that you can see in famous books that we study at school. We are sure about this because there are many many words that we use in common Italian nowadays that comes from the ‘popular’ from and not from the ‘elite’ form. A couple of examples:

  • Cavallo (horse) comes from caballus (the horse used in the fields) and not from equus (a more elegant horse, war horse for example).
  • Mangiare (to eat) comes from manducare (rimpinzarsi -> in English should be something like over-feed / gorge on) and not from edere (a polite eating).

So in the end difference is just “graphic” because in spoken Latin they were used not to pronounce the last consonant, expecially m, n, t.

“Animam” was spoken “anima”, “lumen” was “lume”. Also the famous and simple “et” ("and" in English) was pronounced “e” just like today.

Probably you have always heard that Italian written is very similar to spoken and that's true. But this is not true for Latin too! ;)

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    Welcome to Italian.SE!
    – Charo
    Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 14:43
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    While some sources would benefit this answer, it seems to me that, at best, it squeezes an evolution that took place along more than 1500 years into something that seems to be a static situation.
    – DaG
    Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 16:39
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    Well, if you extend the question to "why and how latin evolved into modern italian in 1500 years" yes, my answer isn't just squeezed... it's even incomplete!! I didn't say how caballus become cavallo, the process of "B" evolving to "V", etc! But to be honest I feel like the answer directly answers the question, that was regarding about and only the "lost" ending consonant. For me, they aren't really "lost" ;)
    – MaHaZaeL
    Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 7:22

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